Murder investigation is not a reality show: Is the media able to handle criminal cases?

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Documentary shows about murder investigations have raised the question, if media have a right and the means to handle judiciary issues.

In the USA there have been a lot of discussion about Jinx and Making a Murderer. In Israel, a new documentary show, Shadow of Truth, follows the story of the murder of a 13-year old girl and the following conviction of Roman Zadorov. An intense public discussion rose in Israel following the airing, demanding the state to reopen the case.

On December 2006, Tair Rada, a 13-year old girl was found dead in the cell of a school’s toilet in Kazerin. There were knife cuts and signs of violence on her body. Around a week after the murder Roman Zadorov, a construction worker at school, was arrested.

On February 2016, a documentary show Shadow of Truth was broadcast on TV, claiming new evidence, leading for new conclusions. Important figures took part in the show: Tair’s parents, Zadorov’s family, Tair’s friends from school, representatives of Zadorov at court, and the prosecution.

The show presents several pieces of evidence showing the police did not have enough proof for Zadorov’s conviction. The show created confusion with its new evidence. Very similar reactions were raised in the USA by Netflix series Making a Murderer and documentary show Jinx.

On April 2016, Raviv Drucker, an Israeli journalist, wrote that the show is misleading. Drucker demonstrated that the show presents claims in a very specific angle, ignoring significant facts. Drucker published an article that motivated the Shadow of Truth creators to respond to his doubts in order to maintain their credibility.

It seems that the Israeli public, at least, doesn’t doubt the capability of the media to handle judiciary issues such as this.  Couple of years ago a Facebook group called “All the truth about Tair Rada’s murderer” was opened. Now the group has over 250,000 members. Furthermore, on May 19th 2016 a huge demonstration will be held in an attempt to have the case reopened.

Prospectus for the demonstration on May 2016

State prosecutor Shay Nitzan has stated that this jeopardizes democracy. “Criminal trials are not a reality show in which the audience decides on the ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ verdict.”

Shadow of Truth tries to satisfy the audience with conspiracy theories and exaggerations. Still, it raises difficult questions about the process of Zadorov’s investigation and conviction. The press has taken, in this case, a significant role in exposing the truth. If there is doubt about Zadorov’s guilt, the state is called to reopen the case, and to take DNA samples from Zadorov and Tair’s friends.

Feinstein Haran, a retired judge, published his opinion on Ynet News this April saying that state prosecutor Nitzan’s criticism of the show was a fundamental mistake and that the show does not harm democracy. The importance of the show, according to Feinstein, is emphasizing the human aspect and not the judicial aspect.  He also believes that the case must reopen, however the odds for reopening the case are pretty low.

Text: Yuval Finkel

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